Space History

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The genesis of Knox Makers was a 2011 Craigslist post pitching the idea of forming a hackerspace in Knoxville. Germany's CCC Mainz space and Chicago's i3 space were direct inspirations. Eight folks responded and a dinner at Cafe 4 was arranged to discuss the idea. A loose-knit group formed and began meeting at each others' homes.

We connected with another non-profit who had their own building and was willing to host us at no charge. We were permitted to use their facility on two nights each month. We used one as an open house and the other for a structured class. It was important to get together to know how many folks would actually stick it out. At that time, we tried to collect dues but with little success as we didn't have much to offer. It was helpful, however, in telling us who was really serious about having a hackerspace. We collected about $1800 over the course of eight months.

Finally, someone threw down the gauntlet, offering a $1000 donation if we could move into our own space within three months. A few other folks responded with similar offers and we ended up with about $7500 to help us get moving. With this funding and impetus, we were able to sign a lease on a 1000 sq ft unit in the Tech 2020 incubator in Oak Ridge.

We outgrew the Tech 2020 space quickly; it simply wasn't enough room for the tools and projects we envisioned. Most of our potential community was actually in Knoxville, and many of them told us they were unwilling to make the drive to Oak Ridge on a regular basis. These factors limited our growth and spurred us to look for a larger facility within Knoxville. We looked at quite a few places, and even got close to signing some leases, but each ultimately fell through. Cost was often the limiting factor.

The search went on for several years before we finally found a home with Spark (then ETTAC). Like us, they're a small nonprofit driven with more passion than money, so we understand each other well. We had already worked on projects together, mainly their Toy Tech program.

When we originally moved into Spark, only one of the three downstairs bays was available - about 3400 sq ft. We leased it and spent months installing our equipment, improving the electrical service, installing air conditioning, etc. Just as we got it all set up and ready to go, they offered us a second bay. We couldn't say no to all that extra space, but there was a lot of work to be done there, too. We had to redesign the whole workshop, expand our electrical capacity again, rework the lighting, and install dust collection and air filtration systems.

Our membership and public Tuesday night exploded after we moved to Knoxville - from about thirty to over one hundred within the first year. The convenience of our new location, coupled with the greatly expanded shop space, made membership a much easier sell. We did lose a few members who live in Oak Ridge, which we regretted.

In 2016, another organization adopted a name very similar to "Knox Makers," causing confusion and consternation. We retained an attorney and ultimately persuaded them to change their name. The experience was stressful and time-consuming, however, and convinced us to pursue a trademark on the "Knox Makers" name. Our trademark was issued in late 2017.

In 2019, we noted an uptick in interest in blacksmithing and wanted to accomodate it. We had no room inside our facility so we decided to construct an outbuilding on the far side of the parking lot. There was already a disused concrete pad present, so our cost-saving plan was to build a pole barn around it. We applied for and won three grants that enabled us to purchase building plans and materials. Overall, it took about a year for us to go from initial concept to functional blacksmithing forge.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we transitioned our traditional Tuesday night meetings to a virtual online meetup and closed the workshop completely for several months. As the pandemic abated, we slowly opened back up, first requiring face masks for members working in the shop and limiting attendance, then allowing small classes. We finally returned to our usual Tuesday night meetings after over a year. Our community remained strong throughout, with nearly everyone maintaining their membership and continuing to pay dues despite being unable to make use of the workshop. We even gained a few members!

In 2021, we renegotiated our lease to take over the last bay of the basement, increasing our total shop space to about 10500 sq ft. We now occupy the entire basement of our building.

As of 2023, Knox Makers has grown to over 350 paying members.